Everything we know about the Downton Abbey movie
If you’ve already wheeled out the tea set and started practicing your best Maggie Smith bons mots, chances are you can’t wait for the Downton Abbey movie.
The film will be a follow-up to the beloved six-season series, which aired on Masterpiece PBS. Set in the titular Crawley family’s country estate, the drama chronicled the lives of the family and their servants from the turn of the 20th century through sweeping societal changes, including World War I and the Roaring ’20s. The show was one of Masterpiece’s biggest hits in years, winning three Golden Globes and 15 Emmys (and snagging 69 total nominations).
Since the show ended its run in 2016, fans have been clamoring for a film, something many cast members and creator Julian Fellowes have teased. But excitement reached a fever pitch in July, when it was finally confirmed that the film was a go.
Here’s everything we know about the forthcoming film:
The film, titled simply Downton Abbey, will land in theaters in September 2019, just in time to make an awards season run. The project will be released by Focus Features in North America, on Friday, Sept. 20. International audiences will get the film a week earlier, on Sept. 13.
Producers initially announced that the “original principal cast” would return, without specifying names. Back in July, EW confirmed that Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Maggie Smith (The Dowager Countess), and Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates) were on board, while PEOPLE confirmed Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Grantham) and Laura Carmichael’s (Lady Edith) involvement.
Some might be surprised by Smith’s involvement given that she repeatedly said she wasn’t interested in continuing, and in an interview with the British Film Institute, even suggested a potential film should open with her character’s funeral.
Matthew Goode, who joined the series for its final season as Lady Mary’s love interest (and eventual second husband), Henry Talbot, will make a brief appearance. He told the Radio Times, “I’m just popping in at the end, which is a nice way to do it.”
The film will also welcome a host of new faces, including Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter), Geraldine James (Anne with an E, Beast), Simon Jones (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Brideshead Revisited), David Haig (Killing Eve, Penny Dreadful), Tuppence Middleton (War and Peace, The Imitation Game), Kate Phillips (Peaky Blinders, The Crown), and Stephen Campbell Moore (History Boys, Lark Rise to Candleford).
Lily James, who broke out on the series as young Cousin Rose, sadly will not be involved, which she confirmed to PEOPLE. “My character, Rose, moved off to New York, so it would be far-fetched to bring her back,” she said. “I would have loved to have come back for a scene, but for a movie it can’t be like a Christmas special and it needs to be a focused story line. There was no space for Rose.”
In December, Fellowes and producer Gareth Neame elaborated on their decision to cut James’ character from the film, explaining it was a matter of streamlining the story to the most essential characters, since it would only be two hours rather than 10 or 11 hours of television.
Fans also hoped that a social media post from Dan Stevens meant Matthew and other beloved deceased characters might return via flashbacks: Back in August, Stevens posted a photo alongside his former costars Dockery and Allen Leech (Tom Branson) with the caption, “Should Matthew have a mustache for the #DowntonAbbeyMovie…? Vote below… ☑️ ❎”
But any hopes that Matthew, who died in a car crash at the end of season 3, leaving Lady Mary a brokenhearted widow, might return have been shut down. Director Michael Engler confirmed to EW in December that the film will only focus on the characters still living at the end of the sixth and final season.
Initial details were scarce. In the first press release announcing the film, Neame said, “Julian’s script charms, thrills, and entertains and in [executive producer and pilot director] Brian Percival’s hands we aim to deliver everything that one would hope for as Downton comes to the big screen.”
The series concluded with an episode set on New Year’s Eve 1926, and it will pick up approximately 18 months later, in the autumn of 1927. Details are still minimal, but Engler teased some tidbits to EW in a first look, saying, “Life is settling into these new realities when this event happens at Downton that brings everybody together. The storyline has expanded the scale of it. It takes the things you love about Downton — the romance, the intrigue, the pageantry — and makes it bigger.”
The first photos released from the film confirm that the movie will very much pick up where the series left off in terms of relationships, bickering, health status, and more. Mary is still happily married to Henry and is taking a bigger role in running Downton, stepping up when it comes to overseeing this grand, mysterious event at the heart of the film. “What you see is her for once being settled,” Dockery told EW of Mary’s romance. “They’re very supportive of one another, and they’re good friends. It’s nice to see Mary in that way as opposed to being in constant turmoil about her love life.”
Lady Edith will be adjusting to her new life as the Marquess of Hexham, alongside husband Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton). The two never anticipated being in such a high position in the aristocracy, which has presented new challenges for them both.
As for Tom Branson, he’s delighting in the forward march of time and the progressive nature of the 1920s, according to Leech. And, as one of the only still-single members of the Crawley family, he may have a romantic plot in store. “Given the fact that he is one of the only ones left who hasn’t found love, one would hope and assume there is an opportunity for him to have an iota of a chance at finding something, Leech teased to EW.
Regarding the Dowager Countess, Engler said, “She feels very much the same in this. She represents the oldest of the old guard.”
And as for Carson (Jim Carter), who ended the series entering retirement due to suffering from the “palsy,” he’s back and better than ever. “Let’s just say his brief retirement has been very good for his health and when this event happens and all hands are needed on deck, he’s called into service and he becomes part of the success of the story,” said Engler.
The core Downton Abbey production team is returning for the film. Carnival Films, which produced the original series, is attached, with Focus Features and Universal handling distribution. Fellowes, of course, penned the script and will produce alongside original series producers Neame and Liz Trubridge. Percival will also produce, and Engler is returning to the director’s chair. Nigel Marchant also returns as executive producer.
According to Dockery, more than half the crew from the original series returned for the film. And as Engler put it, “Making the film felt very much like the story of the film in that all these people came back together, almost 200 people, to make it bigger and better than ever.”
Dockery revealed that filming had begun back in September with an Instagram post showing the clapboard for the film’s first take. “And…we’re off ?@downtonabbey_official,” she captioned a black-and-white image of a monitor with a blurry background appearing to feature the servants’ quarters, Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), and Carson.
Filming wrapped near the end of 2018.
The first teaser trailer debuted in December to much fan furor, despite the fact that it disclosed little to no details about the plot or the film’s major characters, instead focusing on an atmospheric return to the settings and score that made Downton Abbey so lush and irresistible.
The first posters for the film arrived in late March, maintaining the elegance and glamour that made the series a worldwide phenomenon. “We’ve been expecting you,” the images tease, featuring opulent shots of Lady Mary, Lady Edith, footman Andy (Michael Fox), and Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) readying themselves (and the silver) for something special.
Fans are already atwitter about a possible sequel, months before the first film has even hit theaters. Fellowes fanned the flames of such rumors in March, when he made remarks to The Sun suggesting it was a possibility. When EW spoke with Fellowes back in December, he addressed remarks he’d made calling this film a “curtain call” for the series. With regard to the film being the end for Downton Abbey, he said, “I’d never say that. Because one never knows. And anyway show business has a way of tearing up your plans. At the moment as far as I’m concerned, this is the resolution of what has been a tremendously enjoyable, rather extraordinary ride on a magic carpet.”
Neame was even more positive about the possibility of a sequel, telling EW, “If [this first film] was successful enough, then I wouldn’t rule that out. People have got to want to keep watching it. I certainly feel the actors all had a really enjoyable time doing it, so I wouldn’t rule out them potentially wanting to do more if it was a hit. But I’m glad, whether that happens or not, I’m just glad to know we have the movie in the can.… We’d hinted and promised the fans there would be a film, so I would have been very disappointed if in the end we had been unable to pull that off.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published Sept. 19, 2018, and has been updated to reflect new information.
The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.